By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND and Nicole McMurray, B.Sc, RMT
For the average person, our bone mass peaks when we are in our 30’s, and then starts to decline from that point on. So, we wanted to share some things everyone can do to improve their bone health.
When most of us think about improving bone density, we think of calcium and calcium rich foods. Surprisingly, what the studies show is that eating more fruits and vegetables in the diet is the main factor that improves bone density (1,2,3). One reason that a diet higher in fruits and vegetables is protective is that it creates a slightly more alkaline environment in the body which creates optimal bone density.
Of course, this is not the only factor in achieving and maintaining good bone density. There are many other things to consider. In this article you will learn how to improve your bone health from the naturopathic and massage perspectives.
What can I do to encourage bone health?
Fruits and Veggies
Emphasize fruits and vegetables in your diet – aim for 2-3 servings of fruits per day and 4+ servings of vegetables per day.
Yes, pay attention to calcium intake, but remember that this is not the only factor involved in maintaining healthy bones! If you are dairy-intolerant, there are many non-dairy sources of calcium, including dark leafy green vegetables, kale, broccoli, almonds, sesame seeds, seaweeds and fortified milk-substitutes.
Exercise regularly. Those who tend to have higher peak bone mass are those that incorporate exercise into their lifestyles. It is important to build for bone mass before the age of 30, but even after 30, bone density loss can be slowed by taking the right steps. Exercise is great for prevention or even if you have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis.
Like muscles, bones also get stronger when exercised and placed under “stress”. This stress encourages the body to build bone to help protect and support the body’s structure.
“Placing bones under stress” doesn’t always mean it needs to be intense exercise. Basic weight training, walking, hiking, dancing, and even climbing stairs are sufficient to place bones under stress. Keep in mind that yoga, swimming, and biking are not considered effective exercises for increasing bone mass as they are not weight bearing. However, these are all still great for flexibility, balance, and cardiovascular health! In the end, the stronger, more stable, and flexible you are (especially those with low bone density), there is less risk of falls and in turn potential fractures in the future.
In post-menopausal women, two 40 minute sessions per week of weight lifting increased bone density as much as estrogen!
Exercises and frequencies can be modified to suit your current bone health. Please talk to your doctor before starting on any new exercises to make sure they are right for you.
Coffee and Alcohol
Consider reducing coffee and alcohol intake! Coffee increases the rates of calcium lost in urine. Limit to no more than one small cup per day (4,5). In studies, smokers and women who drink 2 or more alcoholic drinks per day had the highest risk of osteoporosis (6).
Read more in the previously published article by Dr. Shawna Darou, ND Moderate Alcohol and Women’s Health: What does the science say?.
With decreased bone density, bone weakens and becomes more immune to fractures, structural/postural changes (ie. scoliosis or kyphosis), and the formation of chronic pain and/or discomforts as the body adjusts. With these changes, muscles can tighten or go into spasm to help stabilize bones, and our posture. Massage can help loosen up and provide relief for these areas of concern, decrease spasm intensity, and encourage the body to maintain its neutral position. Maintenance massages ultimately help keep the body moving properly and freely as these changes occur.
What about pressure?
Positional release techniques are a great option with osteoporosis cases. These techniques provide an alternate to sustained deep pressure massages, which may not be suggested for fragile bone tissue. Instead, positional release techniques can be performed lightly, and are an equally effective approach to releasing areas of restriction or soreness. Deep pressure is generally case dependent, and can sometimes be used with some muscles depending on location (those that create minimal stress on joints or spinal segments).
Learn more about Positional Release Therapy in the previously published article by Nicole McMurray, Is Positional Release Therapy Right for You?.
If you’re concerned about your bone density, take preventative action now! Contact us to learn more about how you can improve your bone health with naturopathic medicine and registered massage therapy.
- Tucker KL, Hanna MT, Chen H, et al. Poatssium, magnesium, and fruit and vegetable intakes are associated with greater bone mineral density in elderly men and women. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999; 69(4): 727-736.
- Tylavsky FA, Holliday K, Danish R, et al. Fruit and vegetable intakes are an independent predictor of bone size in early pubertal children. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004; 79(2): 311-317.
- Chen Y, Ho SC, Woo JLF. Greater fruit and vegetable intake is associated with increased bone mass among postmenopausal Chinese women. British Journal of Nutrition. 2006; 96(4): 745-751.
- Hallstrom H, Wolk A, Glynn A, Michaelsson K. Coffee, tea and caffeine consumption in relation to osteoporotic fracture risk in a cohort of Swedish women. Osteoporosis International. 2006; 17(7): 1055-1064.
- Liu H, Yao K, Zhang W, Zhou J, et al. Coffee consumption and risk of fractures: a meta-analysis. Arch Med Sci. 2012; 8(5): 776-783.
- Kanis JA, Johansson H, Johnell O, et al. Alcohol intake as a risk factor for fracture. Osteoporosis International; 2005; 16(7): 737-742.
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